Thu, 18 Aug 1994

President Soeharto remarks on openness triggers debate

JAKARTA (JP): President Soeharto's reiteration on Tuesday of the need to maintain political stability sparked debate on whether the government intends to close the gates of political openness.

Politicians, academics and lawyers expressed differing interpretations on the meaning of the statements in Soeharto's annual state-of-the-nation speech marking yesterday's 49th Independence Day.

In his speech at the House of Representatives (DPR), the President warned that moves to promote democracy should not cross the limit and endanger the political stability necessary for high economic growth.

He acknowledged that development requires a democratic setting but stressed that political stability is a "prerequisite" for the success of development.

"Openness does not mean unlimited freedom, or even worse, freedom to be hostile, pitting one party against another and unconstitutionally imposing one's ideas," he said.

The President also acknowledged differences of opinion as characteristic of democracy, which has its own rules. "Without rules and without their observance, what will emerge is anarchy, not democracy."

Assurances that the government would not put the brakes on the moves for democracy came from Sudharmono, a former vice president and now an adviser to Soeharto.

"The openness drive continues. How can we slow it down when the push is this strong," he said after attending the gala celebration.

Sudharmono, who runs a legal aid institution, underlined the President's statement that what Indonesia needs now is "responsible openness."

Legislators Krissantono from the government-backed Golkar political grouping and Abu Hartono from the Armed Forces (ABRI) faction agreed that political openness needs to be vigorously promoted without drastically imposing western-style democracy as some groups have demanded.

Krissantono pointed out, however, that the absence of standard definitions of "responsible openness had wrought confusion about what may be done and what may not."

Hartono said the public should be wary of certain groups' efforts to force their will and seek to apply western-style democracy which he termed unsuitable for Indonesia.


Prominent lawyer and human rights campaigner Todung Mulya Lubis criticized the government for continuing to glorify national stability at the expense of democracy.

"Political stability is important but it is not the only element dictating the success of economic development. Sound economic development also requires the people's participation," he said.

Lubis argued that "dynamic stability" as the President calls it, is impossible without active participation of people from all levels of the community. "It is not something which is created by the government, it has to come from the people," he said.

Indria Samego, a researcher at the Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI), suggested that the government phase out its focus on political stability.

He warned that the continued focus on political stability would create an impression that the government is repressive and authoritarian, Antara reported.

Pessimism about the government's commitment to promoting democracy has been brewing once again following the government's recent crackdown on the publication.

The government closed down what it considered the three most provocative news weeklies, Tempo, Editor and DeTIK, in June following two years of unprecedented openness.

House member Sabam Sirait said the closures represent the government's inconsistency in its commitment to promote democracy.

He said he believed that all the president's statements were well-intentioned but that oftentimes cabinet ministers failed to translate the President's wishes into action. (pan/pwn)